Along with the horror film Host, Nancy Meyers’ sort-of sequel to the two Father of the Bride movies is the very best thing to be shot in lockdown. As the title suggests, we’re reunited with the Banks family a quarter of a century after Father of the Bride Part II, which was released in 1995. All the familiar faces are here – Steve Martin as George Banks, Diane Keaton as Nina Banks, Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Annie Banks, George Newbern as Brian Mackenzie, Kieran Culkin as Matty Banks and (of course) Martin Short as Franck Eggelhoffer. There are also a few new faces this time around too – Florence Pugh as Megan Banks, George and Nina’s second daughter, Ben Platt as George Banks-Mackenzie, Annie and George’s son, Alexandra Shipp as Rachel, Matty’s fiancée, and Robert De Niro (in a very special cameo) as Alexandra’s father James, along with a guest appearance from Reese Witherspoon, who introduces the episode as part of a fundraising drive for World Central Kitchen. At only 25 minutes, the premise is elegant and simple – Matty and Rachel have decided to get married, and enlist Franck to help them perform a virtual wedding ceremony with the whole family quarantining.
Rumours of a third Father of the Bride film have circulated since the sequel was released, so it’s a bit surreal to see these characters reunited during lockdown after all these years. Yet lockdown turns out to be the best venue for reviving the franchise, for a whole variety of reasons. First and foremost, there was always going to be a slight stiltedness in reuniting the cast, so having it all unfold on Zoom really naturalises that awkwardness, and absorbs it back into the premise of the film. Perhaps that’s why the actors settle back so beautifully into their original characters – it feels as if they never really left them behind – as Meyers picks up right where she left off, crafting a world that’s surprisingly and beautifully true to the first two films. At times, this even feels a bit like a fan video – the opening credits cut and paste images from the original movies – but in the best possible way, since this is everything that fans of the first two films would want from this special, which delivers without ever pandering to us either.
It’s especially amazing how seamlessly Steve Martin slips back into the role of George Banks – and if lockdown works well for the cast as a whole, it’s the perfect venue for reintroducing George, who is a worrier by nature. Since he’s always comically planning, managing, fixating and obsessing, he’s a cathartic kind of character to watch during a pandemic, and lots of the jokes here stem from his efforts to combat the virus – checking in on whether everyone has enough sanitiser, reminding them of the “disinfectant protocol,” forwarding every new article that comes out about the pandemic, and even writing a booklet with advice on social distancing. In other words, George Stanley Banks has finally found something commensurate to his nervy energy, something that commands his anxious attention even more than the first two movies: “I’ve just never had anything this huge to over-react to – except the wedding.”
It’s also poignant to see George and Nina carrying on at a time when their demographic are amongst the most susceptible to the virus, especially in the United States. A large chunk of the audience of Part 3(ish) are likely to be their age as well – the Baby Boomer viewers of the original two films – so there’s a warm sense of solidarity here, as Meyer addresses her older demographic as artfully as Host addresses the teenagers and young adults struck by lockdown. Steve Martin and Martin Short have done so much together in recent times that it’s especially wonderful to see them settle back into the Franck and George routine here once again, while Diane Keaton also sinks into Nina’s shoes like she played her yesterday – a voice of radiant calm in the turbulent Banks household. That’s not to say that the film is totally aimed at old folk, though, since the younger cast are really well chosen too – they feel like actors who grew up knowing the original films by heart, meaning they’ve had them in their own hearts for the last two decades, and are spiritually part of the original cast of characters.
While Part 3(ish) may only be 25 minutes, it also manages to capture the full arc of the original two films – and rotate through all of Alan Silvestri’s musical motifs without feeling rushed or condensed. I appreciated its rich nostalgia for those original films, and the judicious choice of flashbacks, along with the brief Martin monologue in the closing scenes, which perfectly captures the exquisite sentimentality of his original performance. Yet Meyers is also aware the lush 90s style of the originals is a thing of the past, and Zoom works well again here, relegating the beautiful domestic spaces of the first two films to a series of stylised Zoom backdrops. The décor of the originals and the décor of Zoom wallpaper syncs up perfectly – both are fantasies – while the main subplot works beautifully to cautiously and tentatively open up those backdrops just a little, as Nina and George reveal they’ve had a slight skirmish, meaning he’s Zooming from another room, but that they’ll be returning to the same room presently.
Of course, we never see them return to the same room, since Martin and Keaton had to shoot the film from their own houses, but that slight opening-up of the Zoomspace made me wonder whether this might bloom into a fully-fledged film after the pandemic has ended. I really hope it eventuates, even if Meyers doesn’t follow exactly the same plotline here, since the spirit of the first two films is well and truly alive in this beautifully poised almost-sequel.